Originally posted by me on January 24th, 2011 to As We May Think (& Other Points of View) under the title Consumer Frustration and How to Avoid It.
A BoingBoing article, “Help Kym crack the obsolete DRM on her ebooks”, ably demonstrates consumer frustration with the eBook life cycle. In the article, the subject, Kym, is frustrated that her eBook software is no longer supported and is seeking a DIY approach to strip the DRM and view the eBook on contemporary software.
I believe general consumer frustration stems from two sources. The first is dissatisfaction with the underlying philosophy guiding eBook DRM. The second is miscommunication with the retailer regarding what exactly is being purchased.
In The Technology of Rights, Coyle summarized the underlying philosophical disagreement when it comes to DRM:
“Where copyright law is an expression of “everything that is not forbidden is permitted,” DRM takes the approach of “everything that is not permitted is forbidden.” (p. 18)
Obviously this is an aspect which requires significant work, but I want to focus on the customer experience aspect today instead.
It is clear that the strategy of marketing eBooks as the convenient cousin of dead-tree books has backfired and led to considerable frustration. For example, on Amazon.com, eBooks are sold as just another edition of a title. The Kindle edition of a book appears right alongside the paperback and hardcover. However, unlike these editions, it is not automatically possible to reproduce, lend, consign, or even read them.
When music first went digital, the large majority of business models failed because retailers expected to sell consumers a less user-friendly product for the same price as CD’s. It wasn’t until Apple started offering a more versatile product at significantly reduced prices that consumers embraced digital music.
I believe that if eBook retailers were to clearly publicize the limitations of the format and simultaneously reduce prices significantly, consumers would be far less frustrated going forward. For example, I myself would be less likely to complain down the line if the sales pitch I had bought into was something more along the lines of this:
“This Kindle eBook is only going to work on your Kindle or with Kindle software until the day we chose to discontinue service to it. You probably cannot lend this eBook and you definitely can’t sell it after you’re done. On the bright side, you can start reading it immediately and it’s only $2.99 – even on release day.”
What do you think? Could a franker explanation of exactly what is being purchased prevent mid to long-term consumer frustration?